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tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  August 24, 2010 9:00am-10:00am EDT

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>> well, i'm still alive. i never thought of myself, charlie, as a controversialist. >> rose: tony judt for the hour, next.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: tony judt died of a.l.s. or lou gehrig's disease on august 6. he was 62 years old, although in some places he was known for his controversial views on. he authored 13 books for which he became a pulitzer prize finalist post-war a history of europe since 1945. last year, judt was awarded the george orwell prize for intelligence, insight and conspicuous courage. over the years he was a great friend of this program as a guest and a guest host. in september of 2008 tony judt was diagnosed with a.l.s. it is an affliction that he described as progressive
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imprisonment without parole. over the past 18 months, he dictated dozens of essays and on edz, wrote two books and delivered from memory his last lecture to an auditorium of n.y.u. students. his words that night were recently turned into his last book. it is a petition for the future, a rallying cry for renewing social democracy. as his illness took its toll, tony lost the ability to walk, to type, and speaking became a struggle. three weeks ago, eight days before he died, i visited tony at his home in greenwich village to talk about his work, his ideas, and also about dying. it was an interview that neither of us knew would be his last. for some, this will be hard to watch, but it is a conversation he wanted to have and to share. it is about an illness. it is about facing death. and yet it is about life.
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you should view it as a reminder of his spirit, his struggle, and his passion for the ideas that dominated his life. here is that conversation. tell me about how you found out and how you adjust. adjust to the idea of this illness. >> well, i want to thank you, charlie. one of the things about lou gehrig's disease is it gives (inaudible) you're left (inaudible) on the keyboard. (inaudible).
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walking uphill (inaudible) so then it gets more and more and you go to the doctor and you your very worried and said you must see a neurologist. i see the neurologist, he tells me that the good news is that you don't multiple sclerosis or parkinson's but you may have a.l.s. so i had to go home and look it up. i knew about lou gehrig but very little else. it turns out that a.l.s. is a
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disease about which almost nothing is known. it was identified by a french neurologist about 75 years ago. since then, we've learned more about how it works but very little about what to do about it. (inaudible) the painter, the plumber, the bus driver, there's nothing you can do to (inaudible) do nothing. because i'm a teacher, i was able to continue for two years after the initial diagnosis.
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that's actually what kept me going, the fact that i could continue, i could dictate, i could think, i could, so to speak, write. therefore that's what kept me going. >> rose: help us understand how you think about dying and help us understand how you think about what insights you have about living. >> well, i'm better on living than i am on dying because by the time you think about it, it's too late. but i can tell you a little bit about the peculiarity of knowing you're going to die and knowing when (inaudible) most of us most of the time have absolutely no
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idea there will be... where they will be in five years. normal person. but we're pretty clear where we'll be next month, doing the same thing we're doing this month. my situation is exactly reverse. i have no idea where i'll be next month. i could be silent, i could be dead, i could be exactly like this. i could be in a variety of stages. but i know absolutely certainly that i'll be dead in five years. (inaudible) i am very focused
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upon life in the next two weeks and death for me is rather like (inaudible) an exam coming up. you don't want to think about it there's nothing you can do about it therefore it's a wasted subject. (inaudible) i have thought a lot about life after death. now, this sounds silly, i never believed it before, i grew up in a world of declining religion, my parents were secular jews. i went to schools where most of
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the kids (inaudible). so my sense of god was always very (inaudible). so i have no idea where whether there is life after death for me. but i am absolutely sure that there's a life after death for the me in this world that will continue in the memory of people. the things i did, the things i felt. so in that sense i am morally responsible for being now in ways that give my life after death some (inaudible). whether it's people close to me,
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the people i see, people (inaudible) but as for living, i guess my view on that is that i've been very clear that living (inaudible) to the business of communication. because i can't move. i can't travel. i can't (inaudible) but i can communicate with people and they can communicate with me. but there's the possibility (inaudible). relationships define one's place in the world.
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so i seem to be able to talk and i guess i'll be ready to die because at that point life will not be worth living. >> rose: because talking and conversation has been so essential to the life that you live? >> absolutely. i grew up in a very loud, argumentative (inaudible) family (inaudible). i remember one of them collapsing in tears of laughter, i was about nine, i think.
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(inaudible). >> rose: (laughs) at nine years old. >> (inaudible) so i grew up with all these words, so i talked a lot. i respected people who had something to say. >> rose: has there been a book or a poem or a conversation that made a lot of difference to you in the last six months? >> possibly two conversations. and one line of a poem. the conversations were
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respectively with timothy (inaudible) political scholar and thomas (inaudible) for many years who were talking to me about what i would do, this is about nine months ago, what i would do while i could still dictate (inaudible). (inaudible).
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>> rose: before i talk about them, tell me the poem. >> the poem is by emily dickinson
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bob silvers described them as heroic saying "the pure intensity of effort and courage needed to arrive at the ability to do it is something difficult to imagine. it is a great victory for him. how do you see these memoirs?
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>> rose: you've written about many things: trains. i think it was called "trains, trains, trains," and the significant... the significance as an engine of becoming rather than being.
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>> rose: you see things in terms of a house.
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>> rose: you have a remarkable family. will you write about them?
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>> on a daily basis if you're having a conversation, say, even a debate about some of these issues and the word "socialism" is mentioned, sometimes it's as though a sort of brick has fallen on the conversation and there's no way to return it to its form, it's sort of indistinguishable. what would you suggest on a daily argumental basis you would do to restore this conversation to its form? (applause) >> i'm not sure if i ought to reveal the identity of the
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questioner but he's my youngest son nicholas. (applause) and that kind of conversation happens with terrifying regularity at our house. (laughter) okay, look, firstly, you have the great good fortune and the cultural disadvantage to being born american. (laughter) the brick does not fall in quite the same way in denmark, but it does fall on the same. and the answer to your question comes in two parts. the first is that we cannot get away from the fact that we have lived through a century in which the word "socialism" was both
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pejoratively and enthusiastically identified with political systems which turned out to be or could be seen to have been from the beginning both economically inefficient, politically repressive, and culturally sterile. we can't deny that. there's no point in pretending otherwise. the union of soviet socialists republics was, after all, by its own account socialist. both communist states describe themselves in various ways for various purposes, constitutionally and so on as socialist. i don't think there's much point
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defending the word. what we have to do is rather different. that is shift the conversations from abstractions to substance. i'm not interested even if i were to live another 20 years in trying to promote some abstraction called socialism. if i'm going to promote abstractions, i'd rather promote justice or fairness. (applause) i'd rather promote equality. >> rose: i would think that the hardest thing of facing what you face is knowing... is the pain of not being able to lead them.
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>> rose: exactly. it makes you understand why family is such a... >> absolutely. >> rose: you have never feared to wade into controversy. do you wish you had done more of that or less of it?
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>> rose: there is the question of what you have said about your relationship with judaism. you said "i don't live israel and i don't care if the sentiment is reciprocated. but when ever anyone asks me if i am jewish i unhesitatingly respond in the affirmative and would be ashamed to do otherwise as far as i know, most of the controversy about you has to do with what you've said about the state of israel.
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>> rose: but you have spoken. you have said things like "israel today is bad for the jews."
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>> rose: beyond family, beyond the life lived as intellectual, as a writer, as a historian, as a teacher, what are you proudest
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of? is it a book? is it a conversation? is it an idea?
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>> rose: that's the legacy? >> rose: change lives. thank you. >> charlie, thank you.
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>> rose: that interview with tony judt, his last, on july 29. what follows now are excerpts from conversations on this program with him about ideas, especially about his ideas on europe. who is the most effective politician who is successful nationally but also is wise and articulate and a leader in the idea of europe? >> i can't give you a single name. >> rose: i can't, either. >> victim done 20 years ago, i can't now. this says something about the political generation now in charge. the smartest most charismatic most thoughtful, probably the best politician, is nicolas sarkozy in france. of course, everyone thinks of his particular policies, that is man who has some vision of what
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he wants to do as a prime minister if he becomes it and what he wants to do as president he's never convince med he cares much about europe. i think what has gone wrong, charlie, is this. that a generation-- this generation, people in their 50s in charge of urine-- have grown up for whom europe was normal, europe was the default condition of life, you didn't have to build europe, you didn't have to think europe, it was just there. you travel easily, everyone speaks the same language or languages, french, german, english. you felt european, the european trading and economic system works. you didn't have to think what do we have to do to make sure we don't fall back into pre-europe? no one thought about that, but we could still fall back into pre-europe. >> rose: we could? >> i think so, yes. >> rose: what would happen? what forces would bring that into a reality? >> well, look at the pattern of protest votes, if you like, in not the poor countries which is where we tend to look for protest votes from the early 20th century model, but it's
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poor countries that turn fascism and so on. look at countries like austria where he did so well getting 26% of the vote. look at france, lapin coming in second in the election of 2002. >> rose: that may have been a fluke, though >> it may have been a fluke, but he still gets 15% to 18%. >> rose: he always has. >> it's a solid block. he probably couldn't do what he did in the election again, but it does mean one person in six is tempted regularly to say lapin is my man. people's party in denmark-- which is now in power-- got 14% of the vote and basically has its own lever with which to push the danish prime minister towards anti-immigrant positions. some of which are reflected... >> rose: in the cartoons. >> exactly. but take a wealthy town like antwerp in belgium, one of the
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wealthiest countries in the world, there at one point three years ago 38% of the local voters turned out for the phlegmish nationalist party. that's basically a one-issue party. it's get the foreigners out, anti-immigrant. if in a wealthy like place like antwerp or a stable welfare paradise as it's presented like denmark and france which is a very stable, wealthy, prosperous society, if you can get 15% to 20% of the electorate, of an educated modern electorate to say that they would in principle and sometimes do vote for someone who is a nationalist anti-european anti-immigrant anti-muslim political figure, that seems a worrying picture of the possible european future. it worries me. the american role in the marshall plan, for example, is crucial but sometimes misunderstood. it wasn't the money. the money matters but the money was spread out from '48 to '51 and it varied from country to country. what matters it was psychological boost.
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europeans in the spring and sum over '47 after an awful winter, terrible food shortages, couldn't by things from the states or canada or south america, europeans were much more depressed than they'd been in' 46 when at least they thought they'd been rebuilding after the war. what the marshall plan did... it was because marshall went to europe then to moscow, came back to the states and realized that the... that europe was on the edge of imploding. that countries like france had no backbone and everyone expected the communists to seize power. and what he did was basically say we will inject not so much money but the promise of support crucial support at a crucial moment, a psychological bridge. and it worked. within two years, long before the marshall money itself is really transforming europe, europeans have taken hold of their own destiny again and there was a sense of optimism. >> rose: the u.s. said we
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believe in you and not only that we'll support you. >> not just support you in the way that was con conventional which was giving huge loans or grants and so on but actually provide money and let you do with what it you think is appropriate. >> rose: when you did this, tell me was the most interesting thing you discovered you didn't know. >> oh, gosh. i'm discovering there's an awful lot i didn't know. it became very clear to me as i was going along. i think probably what i hadn't fully understood-- and it's a typical mistake of my generation born shortly after the war was just how long after 1945 post-war lasted. well into the 1950s. europe looked... west europe, i don't even mean east europe, looked felt, talked behaved, lived much more as if they lived in the 1890s then if it was going to live ten years later. in other words what i discovered, which i should have known, that the scale of the fran sigs from let's say 18953
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that ten-year period is a bigger and more dramatic and unprecedented transition than any in recorded history. that's one of the reasons for the generational gap. because they're entering a world that has been in their parents' lifetime transfigured. so there's a gap in expectation, assumptions and attitudes, in fears and hopes. that is much bigger than the usual gap between generations. >> rose: and extraordinary story post-war history of europe since 1945. thank you. >> thank you very much. >> rose: pleasure to have you here. there's a moment in which you realized you had to write this, was there not? i sense there was a story that you had to tell. >> it's curious because it was both about the larger world and also about a much smaller world. maybe it's easier if i begin with the smaller world because it illustrates the point.
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i've been teaching now universities in this country and in britain and elsewhere for the best part of 35 years. and i was struck that in the last ten years you find yourself making references to writers, to issues, to debates that were once enormously prominent in affairs and young people, including very well educated young people, don't get the references. one of the cases that came up was that of arthur kessler. now, arthur kessler from my parents' generation, from my generation and from the first two decades of my students generation as it were was an automatic and immediate reference. everyone has read "darkness at noon" or knew they ought to read it. in the course of the last ten years you find yourself talking to young people who have nod no idea who kerser will was.
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and more to the point have no idea what it was that made him so controversial. what communism, anti-communism debates about stalin, debates about totalitarianism meant, why they mattered so much, why they were so heated on both sides. i realized we were rapidly losing touch with some of the core debates, challenges, issues of the 20th century in a way that seemed to me as a historian unprecedented. typically the past lingos and all kinds of ways, we misremember, we rebitz of it, we talk about it, people learn it. we have cut ourselves off from our immediate past and in ways that we can talk about of paying a price for that. the larger story was that i found myself in conversations both in washington and here and in europe talking to people about contemporary political policy issues, whether they be economic or foreign affairs,
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diplomacy and so on and realizing that people no longer make reference to past examples except in very short hand ways. no more appeasement, no more munich and so on. and we have lost touch with much of what we need to recall from our own recent past. >> rose: a lot of what shaped us. >> yeah. and we think we know it which makes it more dangerous because we invoke it all the time. >> rose: without looking down on anybody, certainly not that and certainly somethingish never do especially i'm sometimes dismayed when i talk to young people and their sense of history. i mean young people graduating from some of the best universities in america. who come and want to be involved in this program in journalism and you start talking to them about history and there's... it's missing. i i something has happened to the teaching of history in high schools in particular and it's
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something universities can't make up even if they were set up to do. so it's not just this country. it's in england as well. and this is that with so many other subjects, issues, things to get in in a teenager's educational life and cultural life and social life history had been progressively squeezed out. if you look back at the curriculum of a typical american public high school or english public school in the sense of a state school back in as recently as the '60s history was quite prominent, often quite boring. it would be a narrative account of the national story as officially rendered, officially received. it had the down side of putting kids off studying it. at the upside as adults they would recognize the... if you like, the sort of reference points in public life, in public conversations, in memorials, in references to things that have
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happened before they were born. therefore they could be citizens in a third dimension, which is the dimension of time. i think the young people today feel-- and i know talking to students across the board they do feel this-- that they have lost a role, a part, a share in that dimension of citizenship. the past really is another country and they do things differently there and they don't speak that past language. this is true of their relationship to the american past as well as it is to that of the outside world. >> rose: why do you call this "the forgotten 20th century"? for all the reasons we're talking about? >> for all those reasons but for something else as well. i think if you say to the average educated american or european "have we learned anything from the 20th century?" they'll say "oh, yes, never again, munich, appeasement, pearl harbor, totalitarianism." the whole series of sort of auschwitz references to
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essentially bad news or moral lessons from the 20th century. and the consequence of that is it is the century we think we know best. not because it's the most recent one but because it's full of moral lessons. things you shouldn't and should, do actions to avoid, actions to never avoid, always deal with dictators and so on. that blinds us, i think, to much of what we really don't know about the 20th century. more complicated lessons, paradoxes, complexitys in the way in which that century unfolded. and therefore we end up with the wrong lessons. >> rose: for all of us here who worked with tony, our deepette sympathy go to his wife jennifer and his sons daniel and nick and our thanks to our producer charlotte morgan who helped put this program together. thank you for joining us.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org is next.
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